BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 14 March) – It’s always a pleasant surprise to learn about the Filipino artist making good in Switzerland. But I never expected Pinoy artists in an unlikely niche here—in the tattoo business.
My team from the Tambayan Pinoy Swiss, a videomaking volunteers group, met Cebu tattoo artist Benson Gascon in his studio in Mattenhofstrasse here. Less than a year after he opened, Benson has to hire other tattoo artists from Europe and even from the Philippines to keep up with steady demand.
Benson got his first tattoo when he was 14. A friend who was getting a tattoo invited him to tag along and offered to pay for him if he also wanted one.
The experience fascinated Benson and when he got home, he broke open his cassette recorder to get a machine part he used to make a homemade tattoo kit. “The requirements then were not as strict now. And I told my friends that if I messed up, it would be fair enough because I would do it for free”. But his first tattoos were not good enough, leaving just faint scars instead of clear designs on his clients’ skins.
So Benson spent the next years learning how to tattoo professionally, moving to Boracay where he worked for a British national, and also entering tattoo competitions for the experience. In 2011 however, he decided that the tattoo industry in the Philippines was not for him. He sold his two studios in Cebu and moved to Australia to enrol in a fine arts course there, where he met a Swiss girl, Sina Lea Reinhard.
Some years later, the pair moved to Europe, where they got married in the UK. Benson meanwhile enrolled in fine arts design at the University for the Creative Arts. In search of a scholarship for Sina, the pair again moved in 2016 to Switzerland, where Benson tried out his tattoo skills.
His first Swiss clients were Sina’s friends. Benson had brought along only three needles, good only for 3 clients. But apparently the Swiss liked Benson’s style and workmanship and something else.
Entering Benson’s studio is like entering a dental clinic. Explained Benson: “Whenever you go to a dentist, they give you amazing comfort so you won’t be nervous and scared. It’s very comfy, very clean, white and very comfortable. So I always like that ambience.”
He also talks with his clients, trying to interact with the typically private Swiss. “I don’t just work on them and afterwards they pay and go out and it’s finished. I want a relationship with my clients,” says Benson.
He also makes sure the studio is a zone of happy positive vibes. “The Filipino, we are like the Latino in the Asian culture. We are loud, we talk, we laugh, we like good vibes. And the customers love that.”
A style that he says he developed – fineline contemporary realism—also clicked with the Swiss. Benson’s designs could include very intricate and realistic figures; or half-faces of humans or animals peeking from a line wall; or landscapes enclosed in geometric shapes; or just words or phrases tattooed in very fine lines.
“Some people find this impossible, it doesn’t make sense for them because the rules of realistic (tattooing) is without lines, and the rules of geometric is always lines,” says Benson, adding that his contemporary fine arts studies in the UK became a big advantage for him, “it’s like being ten steps ahead.”
But even as he steps ahead in tattoo designs, Benson is acutely aware of the past. His idols are the Filipino heroes and painters Jose Rizal and Juan Luna. He says: “I see myself as one of those people coming over to Europa and then finding ways. I’m just Filipino, nobody knows me here. But Jose Rizal made it, Juan Luna made it. They are my idols, I look up to them to get motivation and inspiration.”
With eleven years of tattoo experience behind him, Benson is making it good here. In fact, he hired this year another Filipino artist for his studio. The TPS team met Jaimar Bacolod, a quiet 33-year old from Catarman, Samar, just a day after he arrived in Switzerland. Also hired with him was Thimo Derks, a Dutch tattoo artist from Beers near Nijmegen. This spring 2 more artists – an Italian and a Swede – will work as guest artists for Benson’s studio. (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for the SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)